The number of 360-degree cameras has exploded since we launched in early 2016. Almost every major camera maker now produces at least one 360 camera. And most of the early camera producers have already moved upstream in terms of quality (see Ricoh Theta S -> Ricoh Theta V, Insta360 Nano -> Insta360 Pro, Samsung Gear 360 -> Samsung Gear 360 v2, etc)
Picking the right camera can be an overwhelming process for a first time 360° creator. We at InstaVR are camera agnostic — we only require that the camera capture in .jpg or .png for images, or mp4 for video — which virtually every VR camera does.
To help you narrow down your decision, you should ask the following questions:
Do you want a 180-degree camera or a 360-degree camera?
This is a relatively new wrinkle in the camera selection process. In June 2017, Google announced it would be partnering with hardware companies to create VR180 cameras. Concurrently, InstaVR announced support for media generated by those 180-degree cameras. Unveiled at CES 2018, the first two official Google cameras are the Lenovo Mirage and the YI Horizon VR180 camera, along with them offering support for the Z Cam K1 Pro.
If you’re creating VR, why would you choose a 180-degree camera? Well first off, our heatmap data shows users spend the vast majority of their time in the front 180-degree field of view. So you’re not depriving your users of much visually. From a production standpoint, 180-degrees is much easier to film. You can hold the camera without worrying about being in the shot, you only have to consider 1/2 as much action, and your resulting files will be considerably smaller.
On the flip side, there’s way more 360-degree cameras on the market. There is also a certain cache to total immersion. And, if you’re going to be doing spatial audio (more on that later), you’ll get more mileage in a 360-degree environment. Ultimately, if you’re going for creating a more practical VR application (ie employee training), a 180-degree camera might be advantageous. Otherwise, you’ll likely stick with the more popular 360-degree cameras.
Is a prosumer (sub-$1K camera) going to be enough? Or do you need to invest in a Professional level camera?
The answer to this question largely depends on the project. Some of our most noteworthy clients have created solid VR projects using what are largely considered prosumer cameras — eg TUI Group (Nikon KeyMission), US Navy via Left of Creative Agency (Kodak Pixpro + Samsung Gear 360), Zimmer Biomet Dental (Vuze), and Premise LED (360Fly).
Agencies that tend to work with more varied clients often have access to a number of different cameras, including higher-end multi-camera GoPro rigs, Insta360 Pro cameras, and YI Halos. You can read about use cases for more sophisticated rigs in our interviews with Galago Vision and Dusk, two premiere 360-degree agencies.
What are the upsides to multi-camera, higher-end cameras? They capture stereoscopic VR images/video, they can capture higher than 4K resolution (beneficial if you’re displaying via a high-end VR headset), and the audio/video experience will just be better overall.
On the downside, you’ll have to invest considerably more money (though you can rent some of the cameras), spend significant time stitching (though Insta360 Pro will stitch in-camera for 8K flat or 6K stereo videos now), and burn through a ton of SD cards.
For absolute beginners, it might be best to start with a $500+ prosumer camera with a decent reputation, such as the Nikon KeyMission or Garmin Virb, and then graduate to the Professional level.
What other camera equipment will I need for a VR shoot?
You’ll definitely need a monopod or tripod. These help with stabilization and allow you to get the camera eye level (the preferred angle for 360 filming). It might also prevent what happened when we used a Gear 360 at SXSW last year, and put tape over the exhaust fan which caused the camera to overheat.
Depending on your audio goals, you may need additional mics, particularly for things such as capturing spatial audio. Like our interviewee Michael Wohl explained, you want the mics near the audio sources to capture lifelike audio. For instance, the new Ricoh Theta V has spatial audio built in, but the four mics are so close together in the camera, that it makes the spatial audio not as impactful.
Extra SD cards. You never want to run out of storage space while filming. Always carry more than you think you’ll need, so you don’t end up shorthanded.
Camera Charging Equipment. You’re not going to be able to charge your camera easily if you’re doing an outdoor shoot. So if you can bring an extra camera charging mechanism, do so. 360-degree cameras burn through power like crazy, so plan accordingly.